Sunday, February 14, 2016

Swimming with Sharks: The UK Guild ball scene

I’ll drink to that: A Brewer’s Blog

As some of you may know I’ve been across the ocean in Ol’ Blighty recently and I’ve taken the opportunity to dip my toe into this new Guild ball malarkey with the Brewers. Having played a total of two games (with two losses) versus Adam Oakson’s Alchemists, I was confident that I had all the experience I needed to dive headlong into it. In doing so I had an awesome time and I even think I’ve picked up one or two things tips for our legions of Brewers players back in NZ.

It just so happens that I live a short hop from the North West Gaming Centre, home to Steamforged Games and Guildball itself. They’re very welcoming and in no time at all I’d organised a game versus James from “Hot Gates Gaming” (I’d recommend his Youtube Channel, especially if you play Butchers as he’s working through playing some of the locals, including the current UK no.1). After getting trounced by him (see my later note on Boiler and Princess) I took on a Masons player and pulled out a win! With such breadth of experience I was now obviously thoroughly prepared for my first tournament.

I heard about a (very) last minute dropout at VAPNARTAK, a pretty big gaming convention in York so the obvious plan was to jump on a train at 23:30 and arrive at 03:00. This wouldn’t have seemed like a good idea had I not been out drinking when I got the call. Four hours sleep later in a nearby hotel I was ready for the day. What could go wrong?

VAPNARTAK is an annual gaming convention in the North of the UK. Traders covering everything from historicals to small Kickstarters come and ply their wares and there were a number of tournaments running on the upper floors. Warmachine (16 players) got edged out by Guildball this year (32 players). Five rounds with prizes for 1st-3rd, best painted team, goal and mini and spot prizes that differed from round to round. It seemed to attract people from all over, and given that it was the UK these are the people who have been playing Guildball since its inception.

Lesson One: Protect Tapper
“Uh-oh” says one of old gaming friends as a group of players enter the hall that we’re playing in. That’s Jack – a good kid but an exceptionally gifted Guildball player. Avoid him. No worries I thought, what are the chances of me being drawn against….

So my first round was a loss, but I did learn a valuable lesson. Protect Tapper with a vengeance. Some Guilds can lose their Captains and keep on playing pretty effectively. Shark is fast enough to get back into the game if he’s taken out (especially if he’s already scored so you’re 4 points up). Obulus is also in the same camp and Midas just seems impossible to catch but Tapper can be vulnerable and he’s a big loss if taken out. Luckily with Tough Hide and a 2” reach for counter attacks he can be a little tough to take down but I have certainly been guilty of over-extending him to get a juicy kill. In this case I did just that and Blackheart jumped at the chance to take him down. Tapper can be a killing machine when he gets in the thick of things but this has to be tempered against the possibility of retaliation.

Lesson Two: The pace of the game can really turn against you, and be difficult to recover from.
Round two I was drawn against Morticians. You might notice that both Guilds are based the same as I’d borrowed this guy’s models. It turns out that official, sanctioned Guildball tournaments have a fully-painted policy. Who knew? Everyone except me apparently.

I started this game by managing to tag Fangtooth. Then Ghast. With even just a couple of key players gone, the momentum really started to move against my opponent. Missing two heavy hitters hit him hard and allowed me to pick off the others. The game finished with me taking down Fangtooth for a second time for a 12-4 win.

Lesson three: The Boiler and Princess duo can do one.
My third game was versus an awesome Butchers player. His goal (which won best painted) was a butchered swine and for some reason people found it hilarious that “David Cameron” would be aiming to score with a pig. If you don’t know why British people would find that funny then Google it. On second thoughts, don’t.
Of course Guildball is a game of buffs and teamwork but I’ve yet to come across a pair as deadly as Boiler and Princess. A boy and his psychotic dog. With Assist from Princess, Boiler will easily reach TAC 7 and with Anatomical Precision armour won’t much help unless you’re a Mason. With a momentous 2 damage available on the second column (boosted to 3 for Assist) he will wreck your day. If he happens to be within 4” of Ox that goes up to usually at least 4 momentous damage per attack, and I’ve not even factored Ox’s Legendary play. Plus you’ll be bleeding.

Even for a “tanky” team such as Brewers, this little boy is bloody deadly. Literally, bloody. This game ended 4-12 giving me a pretty poor record against Butchers, whom Brewers apparently aren’t meant to struggle against. This clearly requires further investigation, by which I mean more playing with toy soldiers.

Lesson four: When you get a chance to take out Obulus, TAKE OUT OBULUS.
Fourth game, second time playing Morticians! Obulus can be a truly terrifying beast, being able to receive 8 influence he can do almost anything he wants and with Puppet Master and a (relatively) easy access to tackle when he needs it the ball is not overly safe anywhere within his threat range.
Taking him down isn’t a piece of cake either. Unpredictable movement is good, and gets exponentially better on a model with a 2” melee range compared to a 1” melee range (say, Midas). To have a chance of putting him in the dirt you need to either hem him in completely or get base-to-base with him with a model with a 2” melee range. When I had a chance to do that early in the game, I took it straight away. A “tooled up” Tapper managed to reach out to an Obulus who had strayed too far forward. In fact this kill won me the spot prize for first kill of the round: a shiny new Compound! I guess it’s time to buy into Alchemists. Or Engineers. No, definitely Alchemists. This game also went to a 12-4 victory and yes that is Obulus behind my lines after having been taken down so early. That boy is fast.

Lesson five: Pay attention to the clock just as much as in WMH.
Game five and I’m again drawn against Morticians. It’s getting late now and the sleep deprivation is kicking in hard. I was, however, playing on Table 1 (ok, tables were random). This guy was a lot more conservative than the other Morticians players I’d faced and so I wasn’t able to bag Obulus as early as I’d like. I had to surround him with Brewers before he succumbed. The score stood at 10-10 for a long time, enough for my clock to be eaten down to 00:00. Unlike WMH however this doesn’t mean an auto-loss. It just means that you get 1 minute activations and give up 1 point at the end of each activation. That forced me into a less than optimal shot on goal which connected! A 12-11 finish is as close as it gets.

And that was the end of the day. I was pretty happy with a 3-2 finish and I came away with much more knowledge of the game than I went in with. There was the chance to ogle the studio models and chat to Steamforged crew and people who’ve been playing since the beginning.

First place (and a new shiny “Veteran” Rage model) went deservedly to Steve Newton from the Who Cares WhoWins podcast. Unfortunately it went straight in his bag without a chance to peruse it but the rules should be available by the time you read this. It was brilliant to meet and mingle with the UK Guildball meta, and meet some of the people that I’ve been watching via Youtube from half the world away to learn this game. They seemed to find this less creepy than I felt saying it out loud.
Next stop back to New Zealand where I’ll be keen to see if I’ve improved enough to take on the Alchemists again.

Probably not.

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